The 76ers will have to give up Ben Simmons and three first-round picks if they want to pull off a blockbuster trade for Rockets former MVP James Harden.
That’s the dramatic asking price set by the Houston Rockets for James Harden, according to NBA writer Yaron Weitzman, as the NBA’s most bitter trade saga drags on towards the season opener next week.
Harden’s made his discontent known in Houston, where he’s spent eight seasons in pursuit of an elusive championship.
The offensive phenom’s fingerprints have been all over a string of big moves over the past decade to position himself for a run at the title.
HARDEN’S FAILED GAMBLES
But the gambles haven’t paid off.
First the Rockets went all in on Chris Paul, but that relationship eventually soured. He was shipped to the Thunder to facilitate Harden’s next hail mary: Russell Westbrook.
But the experiment of pairing two ball-dominant All Stars in one back court again failed to bear fruit. That lasted just one season before Westbrook sought a trade out of town; it materialised in the form of a swap to Washington DC in exchange for point guard John Wall.
Now Harden himself wants out of town and is imposing his will on Houston’s front office until he gets it done. His position has divided the league into two camps: those in favour of player empowerment and those who argue he’s holding to ransom a team that gave him everything he ever asked for.
Harden’s personal wishlist includes Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Miami, among others. He wants to play for a contender in the Eastern Conference, which he views as his best path towards the NBA Finals.
The problem for Harden and the Rockets is what they can get back in return. This is where the 76ers in particular have emerged as the most likely trade partner: they own the best potential asset in a deal.
That asset is rising Aussie star Ben Simmons.
WHY 76ERS ARE MOST LIKELY FOR HARDEN
Harden’s connection to Philadelphia gathered paced once the Sixers hired former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to run their basketball operations.
Morey’s renowned as a trade happy architect who’s no stranger to dealing big packages in return for big names.
But Harden is inarguably a better player than Simmons, so Houston won’t simply countenance a straightforward swap deal.
Three first-round picks AND Simmons is one hell of an asking price, but then again players of Harden’s All-World caliber don’t come onto the market very often.
When the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis prior to the 2019-20 season, they had to give up a LOT. The cost of pairing Davis and LeBron James was steep: three players AND three first-round picks.
There’s nothing to suggest the Rockets wouldn’t demand even more, should Philly be willing to meet the demand of Simmons and picks.
There’s a school of thought in Philadelphia that Morey won’t be hurried into a trade.
WHAT IF BEN STAYS IN PHILLY?
While he loves to wheel and deal, his ultimate goal is to have two All Stars on his roster at any one time. He already has that in Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Add to that the moves he’s already made — shipping Al Horford’s prohibitive contract and surrounding Simmons and Embiid with good perimeter shooters in Danny Green and Seth Curry — and the Sixers have gotten better.
With a new coach in Doc Rivers, there’s every reason for Morey to be patient and see how this new-look line-up with a new-look gameplan pans out. If they can recapture their form from two seasons ago, he may lose interest in Harden.
From Houston’s point of view, they’re playing hardball with Harden and rightly so.
You can’t simply let Harden walk just because he wants to; they need to safeguard the future of the franchise and do right by their fans.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR HOUSTON?
The Rockets on paper are an intriguing project, whether it’s Harden or Simmons running the show. They’ve recently acquired the dynamic Wall, but he’s coming off an Achilles tear — the worst injury in basketball. They’ve also brought in rising prospect Christian Wood and four-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins. For all his injury issues in the past few years, Boogie is still just 30 and possesses a rare, fascinating combination of size and skill.
For those who want to see Ben Simmons have his own team to run, where he’s unquestionably the alpha, a trade to Houston would give him that opportunity.
It may take some time, but that doesn’t mean a trade won’t happen eventually. And if the Sixers bide their time, they may be able to drive down the drastic cost by Rockets for the trade of Harden.